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RHI: Jonathan Bell 'furious' at Boris Johnson event snub

Boris Johnson at Wrightbus in Antrim in February 2016 with senior DUP figures including Ian Paisley, Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell
Brendan Hughes

JONATHAN Bell was "furious" he was not invited to a Boris Johnson event – and ordered Stormont officials to investigate his omission, the ex-DUP minister's former aide says.

Timothy Cairns said Mr Bell became "aggressive" and told him he was "getting a QC to investigate your behaviour and charges will be brought to the police".

The former minister had accused Mr Cairns of "intercepting" his invitation and destroying it on the instruction of other special advisers (Spads) – a claim Mr Cairns denies.

Mr Cairns, who was Spad to Mr Bell when he was enterprise minister, recalled the 2016 incident in his witness statements to the RHI inquiry.

He said Mr Bell had phoned him, asking if he knew senior Tory Mr Johnson was going to Co Antrim that morning.

The minister had been informed by DUP MP Ian Paisley and "Mr Bell was concerned he had not been invited but [Arlene] Foster had", Mr Cairns said.

Mr Cairns said a first minister's office employee told him the invite was from the Northern Ireland Office. He advised Mr Bell to "just turn up as no-one would prevent him entry", and the minister agreed.

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But Mr Cairns said he was later summoned to Mr Bell's office, and the minister was "in a clearly agitated and aggressive mood".

"Mr Bell stood up and said, 'You've one chance to tell me what you have done.' I had no idea what he was talking about. I stated I did not know what he meant," he said.

It was claimed he then said: "Your time is up, I'm getting a QC to investigate your behaviour and charges will be brought to the police."

Mr Cairns said he accused him of having "intercepted his invitation and had destroyed it" on the instruction of other Spads.

The minister then told permanent secretary Andrew McCormick to hire a QC "that afternoon for an investigation into the allegation and any charges were to be brought to the police".

"Dr McCormick explained to Jonathan that it was not possible for me to intercept an invitation. Mr Bell refused to accept Dr McCormick's defence," Mr Cairns said.

Mr Cairns said he believed Mr Bell raised it with Malcolm McKibbin, then head of the civil service, at a dinner in Hillsborough Castle that evening, and Dr McCormick "was tasked by Dr McKibbin to write a report for Mr Bell into the incident".

"I have no knowledge if that report was indeed written," Mr Cairns said.

He added: "For avoidance of all doubt, the allegation that I intercepted an invite is completely false and has no basis in logic or fact."

In his inquiry statements, Mr Cairns has accused Mr Bell of repeated "bullying and aggressive behaviour" towards him, other DUP members and civil servants.

Mr Bell strenuously denied Mr Cairns's allegations, and claimed he was the victim of a "smear campaign".

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